Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hybrids, GMOs, Heirlooms, and Penney Farms

I will be participating in the "Attic Treasures Sale" to be held June 29 8am--11am in Kohler Park on Clark Avenue in Penney Farms. In addition to talking to me about sustainable and organic gardening, you can shop the vendor tables loaded with items, buy fresh fruits, vegetables, locally-made jams, jellies and preserves.

Come on down! This will be my last event of my three-month long book tour. Proceeds from this event will benefit the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway.
The 3-mile long  J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway will be further enhanced by proceeds from the June 29th event.

4th of July tomatoes growing amongst a forest of marigolds.

In the garden

I planted the tomatoes in the midst of a cover crop of marigolds this year. They are a little late for us this year because of some setbacks we had with the seedlings and also because of a relatively cool spring. Although it's so hot right now that I can't remember the spring's being cool. :-)

Now we are in the situation in Florida when it's becoming too warm in the evenings (consistently higher than 70 degrees) to set fruit and when the fungus and other hot weather maladies stop the tomato production for the summer.

We are growing Burpee's early girls, big boys, and 4th of July hybrids. These are all hybrids that have been bred for various traits such as early harvests or resistance to fungus, nematodes, and wilts.  And we are harvesting several a day.  Nice!

Heirlooms, Hybrids, GMOs, and Organic Seeds/Plants

From what I've been reading on Facebook and elsewhere there seems to be a lot of panic and confusion about what is and is not a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). People have been breeding plants of all kinds to select for certain attractive traits for millennia. An Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, studied plant genetics in the 1800s, but his work was not appreciated until the early 1900s when scientists realized that his work was big advance in our knowledge of how genes behaved.

Heirloom crops are open-pollinated and seeds have been saved and handed down from grower to grower. Usually this term is used for crops that have been around for 50 years or more. If you save your seeds, you will be selecting for the best traits for your own conditions and desires.

Open-pollinated crops, whether they are heirloom crops or not, will produce seed with the pollen in the area. If you are growing both sweet and hot peppers, if you save the seed, you'll not know whether they will be sweet or not.

Hybrid crops are created when two closely related cultivars are crossed. The resulting offspring (the F1 generation) have a specific traits such as resistance to nematodes. If you save seed of these hybrids, the offspring (the F2 generation) will not necessarily have the same traits as their parents. They are not true to type. Seed companies, like Burpee, sell hybrids, which you'll need to purchase year after year to produce a reliable set of traits.

Organic seed/seedlings are certified to have been grown following the strict regulations for what is allowed and what is not. They could be heirloom, open-pollinated, or hybrid. USDA defines what organic is.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) are created in the laboratory where the genes from totally unrelated organisms are spliced into the plant's DNA. Then as this highly modified plant grows, every time a new cell is formed it carries the genes from this other organism. One common GMO practice is to splice Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a soil-borne bacteria that kills caterpillars, in with the plant DNA. While Bt is an environmentally friendly product and is usually allowed in organic gardens, we don't know the long-term effects of our eating it or what it does to the microbes in our gut, because every bit of a Bt-enhanced crop is infused with it. Another common GMO combination is to splice in a gene that makes the plant resistant to Roundup®, a relatively safe herbicide to use, which breaks down quickly in the environment into harmless substances. These Round-Up Ready crops are routinely and heavily sprayed with the herbicide so the farmers don't have to weed.  Now Round-Up has been found in in our food supply and there have been rumors about how bad this is for us, but this hasn't been proven.  See Controversy Over Open-Access-Publication.

If you are purchasing seeds or seedlings for your own use, you are not in danger of ending up with a GMO.  They are very expensive to produce and purchase.  But there are dangers that these GMOs can escape from giant farms to hybridize with wild plants. Recently some rogue Round-Up ready wheat was found in Oregon where none had been planted. GMO Wheat Found in Oregon Field. How did it Get There? In my opinion, we do need to be worried about GMOs.

Even though Burpee does not sell GMO seeds or plants, various people have criticized me for dealing with them because they purchse some of their seed stock from a long-time supplier that is now owned by Monsanto. George Ball - Burpee Chairman and CEO denied that there is a problem. 

Red torch garlic was not a success--none of them formed bulbs and some rotted off.

Garlic Failure

I bought Red Torch garlic from Burpee and planted it last fall when it was shipped, but no bulbs matured and many just rotted in the ground. See my post Fall weather and planting garlic in wide rows.

I guess we'll have to be on the lookout for vampires this year. Darn! I will send an email with this photo to Burpee and get credit for a different type for next year.

Anti-Nematode Action

This summer, I'll be giving my edible beds a rest and I'm planting a total cover crop of French marigolds. I'll dig it under this fall while it's still green. This should vastly reduce the root-knot nematodes in the soil.

As always, I'll let you know about both the successes and failures in our gardens.

I hope you're summer is off to a great start!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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